The NL West has been clinched. The Los Angeles Dodgers have secured their first postseason berth since 2009.
Pop the champagne! Jump in the Diamondbacks’ pool!
Thursday’s thorough celebration was a well-deserved one. It’s been an elevator ride of a season, and for the once-last-place Dodgers to make the playoffs after spiraling out of control in dead last in May is remarkable.
However, it’s only the beginning of the journey. In fact, it’s not even the beginning of the journey, but merely an affirmation that the journey will take place.
The Dodgers have a long road ahead of them as the leaves begin to redden and fall begins to run its course.
The Boys of Summer better zip up their windbreakers because October is an unrelenting month.
It all comes down to this.
Having notched the NL West, the Dodgers are guaranteed a spot in the postseason; however, their seed number is still up in the air.
If the regular season were to end today, the Blue Crew would be the No. 3 seed in the National League and would play the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, with home-field advantage going to the Cardinals.
Nonetheless, with eight games remaining in the season and the Dodgers only two games behind the Cardinals and 3.5 games behind the NL-leading Atlanta Braves, there are a variety of possibilities that could play out.
Based upon their performance against these NL West foes this season, the Dodgers will pull off a pair of wins from the Padres, win one of three games in San Francisco, and win at least two out of three against the Rockies.
That would nudge the Dodgers’ record to 93-69, which wouldn’t push them past either the Braves (91-62)—who will cruise past the Cubs (64-90), Brewers (68-85) and Phillies (71-82)—or the Cardinals (90-64), who should manage to pull off five wins out of their final eight games against the Brewers (68-85), Nationals (83-71) and Cubs (64-90).
In that scenario, the Dodgers will head to St. Louis to play the first two games of the NLDS. It may seem daunting to open the postseason on the road, but the Dodgers have the confidence of winning a series at Busch Stadium earlier in the season under their belt.
Both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers’ respective No. 1 and 2 starters, have fared well on the road this season and will be able to nab at least one win in St. Louis, which will allow the Dodgers to close out the best-of-five series in Los Angeles.
Although the Cardinals are battle-tested in the playoffs, they are without ace Chris Carpenter, which leaves a void in their rotation. Rookie ace Shelby Miller has impressed this season, but he didn’t awe the Dodgers, who hit .296 off him.
This is where it would get tricky for the Dodgers. If they do indeed make it past the Cardinals in the NLDS, they’re in for a hard-fought series in the NLCS.
The Dodgers haven’t had much success against the Braves this season (2-5), but those games were all played in the first half of the season when the Dodgers were a far cry from the team they have molded into.
Regardless of the applicability of the outcome of their head-to-head matchups, the Braves will be a tough team for the Dodgers to face in the NLCS.
Not only are they a well-rounded team, but they have two vital tools that will likely propel them to an NCLS title: pitching and power-hitting.
The Braves’ pitching staff ranks first in MLB in ERA (3.20), and their batting order is tied for the fourth-most home runs in baseball (174).
Nevertheless, the Dodgers are a formidable opponent for the Braves. While Atlanta boasts impressive stats, the Boys in Blue have some encouraging statistics of their own.
The Dodgers only slightly trail the Braves in team ERA (3.33, third), and while they don’t quite stack up to the Braves in the quintessential power-hitting stat (131 HR, 24th), they trump them in batting average (.266, sixth; Braves: .248, 21st).
Beyond the numbers, both teams are starving for a deep postseason berth. The Braves have a chip on their shoulder after losing the NL wild-card game last year. It goes without saying that the Dodgers are famished for postseason fortune with a 25-year World Series drought thrusting them toward the trough.
It’ll be a back-and-forth battle, more than likely decided in seven games, with pitching being the decisive factor.
If the Dodgers manage to emerge victorious from a strenuous NLCS, they’ll head to their first World Series since 1988, a season that also marks the franchise’s last World Series victory.
There are a bevy of talented teams in the American League that will be serious World Series contenders, from the Oakland A’s to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The general sentiment from many is that the Boston Red Sox, who don the best record in the MLB at 94-61, will be World Series-bound for the first time in six years after missing the playoffs in four straight seasons.
While that yielded a convenient “potential World Series preview” when the Sox came to Chavez Ravine in August for a three-game series, which they won two games to one, they’re not headed to the Series.
Two reasons: 1) Barring Jake Peavy, their starters are unreliable; 2) Their bullpen, particular the back end, is shaky.
The other reason: the Detroit Tigers.
The Red Sox are an incredibly talented team led by veteran designated hitter David Ortiz and gritty second baseman Dustin Pedroia, but the Tigers are a stronger team at the dish and have the starting pitching to exceed the Sox.
Spearheaded by Miguel Cabrera and aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the Tigers have been incrementally trending towards a World Series title for the past three seasons.
In 2011, they reached their first ALCS in five years during their first playoff run in as many years, and last season they followed it up by making it to the World Series.
In order to win the World Series against the Tigers, the Dodgers would have to play premium baseball on every pitch.
With veteran leader Torii Hunter thriving in Detroit to add to a heavy-slugging lineup that includes Prince Fielder and last year’s Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers are prepared more than ever to win the Series.
Although the Tigers have home-field advantage due to the AL’s victory in this year’s All-Star Game, the Dodgers can’t be dismissed as an unworthy opponent.
Much like the Tigers, the Dodgers have the bats to win the World Series, particularly with a healthy Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the lineup to complement Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig.
With the highest payroll in MLB history, the Dodgers—from the front office to the dugout—have harbored the mantra “World Series or bust.”
That mindset, coupled with their widely displayed genuine team chemistry, may just propel this team to achieve its goal, regardless of which opponent stands in its way.